The pandemic has been hard on everyone, but it’s been especially hard on kids, parents and teachers. Raising kids is hard. Teaching is hard. Doing either one of those things is enough to make you lose your mind, just a little bit. But when you add in having to do those things at home, all day, and work at the same time it’s rough. Now throw in a divorce and you might just want to quit and lay in bed all day.
However, the pandemic did bring a little blessing for those who are already divorced or separated. If you share custody with your ex you were one of the few people who got some alone time. You were able to ship your kids off to their other parent and have the whole house to yourself. It made things a little more bearable.
Hi, I’m Claudia. I’m a teacher, mediator and single mom living in Southern California. I’m divorced. Divorce sucks; although truth be told your life usually gets a lot better after you divorce. Co-parenting is hard sometimes and navigating the school system in 2021 can be a bit of a challenge. I’m here to help you think about some things you may not have considered before, or if you have, to help you think about it from a different perspective.
Masks in School
This is a very controversial topic, but at the time of my writing this many school districts across the country have mask mandates. Here are my best tips for you:
- Have a conversation with the teacher and ask him/her to allow your child to step outside every once in a while so they can take their mask off. I call it a “breathing break” and I allow my students to step outside for a minute or two. They have to request it from me and it is only one person at a time, but they are so grateful for the opportunity to do so.
- Having the right mask is super important as well. I find cloth masks hard to breathe in if I have to be speaking a lot, or if it’s hot and humid out. I recently had a student with asthma not show up to school one day, not because she had a major asthma attack but because she was having trouble breathing through her mask. Here are the masks I buy for my son who has asthma. I use the adult version every single day when I teach and I love them because I can actually breathe.
If your child’s been exposed to COVID they’ll have to stay home from school for several days which will severely impact their learning. Because things are different from last school year it’s unlikely the teacher will jump on Zoom and teach them. So here are some ideas for keeping your child learning, or at least occupied with something other than Fortnite.
- Check the Google Classroom. It may be that your child’s teacher has put some assignments in there for kids to do while they’re waiting for a negative COVID test.
- Have your child read.
- Do some art. I really like these YouTube videos from Let’s Make Art.
- Send an email to your child’s teacher letting them know what your child is working on at home and see if there are any digital subscriptions that the school has that you can access such as Epic!, Prodigy, iReady, or Reflex Math.
- Ask that any worksheets passed out in class be sent to the office at the end of the day so you can pick them up.
- Communicate with your co-parent about what your child’s been doing during the school day with you. More than likely they’ll be glad you figured things out and will follow through with your plan during their parenting time.
- If you are able to work from home, but your ex isn’t, have a conversation about where your child will be during the school day when they’re not with you. You may be able to work something out on their parenting days where you keep your child during the school day and the other parent picks them up after work.
COVID and IEPs (Individualized Education Plan)
If your child is on an IEP the good news is that they should be receiving all the services outlined in their IEP this year. The bad news is they have to be at school to receive those services. If you have made the decision to keep your child home on Independent Study until things are safer it is unlikely they’ll receive any services this year. If this is your situation here are some things to keep in mind for this school year.
- You and your ex both have educational rights. That means you both have the power to make decisions about your children’s education. If you don’t want them at school but your ex does, that’s potential for major conflict. Of course you could go to court and have a judge decide, but they’ll probably rule in favor of the parent who wants the child in school since they’re on an IEP. You’re better off going to mediation and seeing if you and your ex can reach some sort of agreement on schooling for this year.
- If you keep your child out of school the district will inform you that your child will not be getting services. They will also have you sign a form stating that you won’t sue the district because the IEP isn’t being implemented and that you are fully aware of what you’re doing.
- DO NOT allow the district to change the IEP in any way while your child is on Independent Study. The IEP should stay exactly the same so that when your child returns to in person school their services can be resumed immediately.
General Tips for School and Divorce
- If your children are in elementary school and you’ve decided to divorce then tell their teacher what’s going on. Believe me, they will find out anyway because kids talk. A lot. Little kids especially. Telling the teacher that a divorce is happening allows them to be more sensitive to your child’s emotional needs and will help them understand the underlying reason for any sudden changes in mood or behavior. Let the teacher help your child through this transition. For middle and high school aged students you may want to speak with their guidance counselor.
- Even if you and your ex agree about taking vacations during the school year the school won’t. If you must take a vacation just be sure not to have too many absences. Remember that school is mandated and you could be in a lot of trouble if your children have more than 10 unexcused absences a year.
- If your children have a large number of tardies and absences ask for a print out of those days. If the vast majority of those happened on the other parent’s custodial time you need to inform the school principal. If the issue escalates and you have to meet with a representative of the DA’s office then make your case to them as well. Once they see that you are doing your job as a parent they won’t try to prosecute you but will go after the other parent. (Okay, I know this sounds extreme, and it is, but there have been incidents where parents have been put in jail because they won’t send their children to school.) CYA
- Attend the parent-teacher conferences, the SSTs (Student Study Team) and IEPs. Major decisions are made in those meetings and you should not leave it up to your co-parent to make those decisions alone. Right now most meetings are still being held virtually so you should be able to make it even if you’re at work. If it’s an in person meeting and you can’t attend, ask to attend via telephone and have them put you on speaker.
- If your child needs technology each night to complete their homework then either both houses need to acquire that technology or it needs to be carried back and forth between the houses. For example, if your child needs a Chromebook to access their homework then it should travel with the child instead of only being housed at one parent’s house.
Above all else, remember that the school is your partner in helping to raise your children. The more you communicate with the teacher, in a spirit of cooperation, the more they will be willing to go out of their way to make sure your child doesn’t fall behind.
If you have complex issues related to your children and divorce then you should work with a mediator who knows and understands children and the school system. They can give you a behind the scenes look at how schools operate and what you need to do as parents to not let your divorce ruin your kids.
Claudia has been a teacher in public education for two decades. The transition to mediation was a natural one as colleagues and administrators kept coming to her to help them settle disputes between themselves and with parents. She is a natural teacher and infuses conflict resolution training into everything she does. She is active on Instagram and regularly goes live on her Facebook business page Brownie Culture. You can also find her at https://brownieculture.com/. Her mediation practice is entirely online because she wants to help as many people as possible and doesn’t think distance or LA traffic should get in the way.